“Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”
How embarrassing for the Army National Guard. Years ago over 800 Soldiers were under criminal investigation for unethical behavior and fraudulent payments in the “tens of millions” as part of the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (GRAP). What began as a successful recruiting initiative is now called one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army. How did this happen? Perhaps if individuals had focused more on ethics and less on results and personal profit, we could have avoided this situation. One of my leadership philosophy principles is to “Do the Right Thing” which begins at the individual level, and should exist in all levels of an organization.
Doing the right thing starts with an individual choice to be ethically and morally correct as we manage resources, equipment, and the lives and careers of our service members. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself in a situation that isn’t black and white, where the right decision is undefined. A Judge Advocate officer once told me, that when you are unsure about doing the right thing, first ask the question “May I,” and then “Should I.” May I refers to the question of whether ethics rules permit us to take a proposed action, and then Should I focuses us on whether the action will create an appearance of unfairness, impartiality, or cause a reasonable person to question our integrity.
If this doesn’t work, I recommend getting an opinion from someone you trust. We are all responsible to ensure others in the organization are doing the right thing, so others are often glad to steer us in the right direction when we are unsure. Never hesitate to get a second opinion on tough decisions; it may make the difference between going down an unethical path or maintaining the straight and narrow.
We are also responsible to ensure others are doing the right thing. Bound by integrity and honor, we are empowered with the ability to correct and question others. Of course these types of conversations should happen in private, and if they are serious enough we must report them up the chain of command. If we ignore these situations, we are guilty of allowing that sexual harassment incident in the workplace, not warning a friend when they are ignoring the proper use of company funds, or warning the boss when they appear to have a double standard. Yes, we all know about these types of situations happening, and unfortunately they will probably happen again. It takes personal courage to speak up, but we owe it to our friends, fellow service members, bosses, and ourselves to take action when someone isn’t doing the right thing.
The final level of doing the right thing is with our leaders who are not only responsible for their actions, but also must ensure proper oversight is in place over our resources and processes to avoid unethical situations. Leaders at all levels are expected to have reviews, audits, inspections, or other control measures in place when they entrust their subordinates with managing resources, funds, and processes. Without these checks and balances, we place individuals in tempting situations where they may think they can get away with something that is irresponsible or illegal. Unfortunately, insufficient controls were probably the largest failing in the GRAP program, resulting in the cancelling of a successful recruiting program, an embarrassing investigation, and the end of many careers.